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BH jail invites tour to mark 125th year

Wednesday, 28th June, 2017

(From left) Darryn Clifton, Kevin Rushforth and Jason Hodges are senior members of staff at the Broken Hill jail, the fourth oldest prison in NSW. (From left) Darryn Clifton, Kevin Rushforth and Jason Hodges are senior members of staff at the Broken Hill jail, the fourth oldest prison in NSW.

By Daniel Stringer

Yesterday the BDT got the rare chance to see behind the walls of the Broken Hill Correctional Centre, gaining a unique insight into the day to day life in one of the oldest prisons in NSW. 

To mark the 125th anniversary of the opening of the jail, local media were invited on a behind the scenes tour. 

The Broken Hill Gaol was opened on November 8, 1892, and at the time held a total of 21 prisoners. Now it has the capacity to hold up to 90 inmates at any one time. 

The building wasn’t always used to house just prisoners. During World War II it was vacated and used as a storage facility by the Commonwealth Government.

It held $48.8 million worth of gold and other important documents such as the Constitution of Australia and the Constitution of the Netherlands.

Today, however, it is back to its regular function of housing and rehabilitating criminal offenders.

When one thinks of a prison a flood of images comes to mind, largely thanks to the stereotype depicted in movies and TV shows. But the environment within the Broken Hill Correctional Centre resembles nothing like that.

In fact, walking through the prison it resembles more of a rundown hostel than a prison.

Amidst the cramped cells and tight security, the inmates go about their daily activities, working out in the yard, playing squash and putting their skills to use in a workshop.

Having worked in the prison for over 15 years, senior corrections officer Darryn Clifton has a unique insight into prison life.

He says the public often has a misconception about what actually goes on behind the walls, saying people will never understand it unless they have been in the situation themselves. 

“I think the perception from the public is different in every town where there is a correctional centre located, largely depending on the size,” Acting Senior Assistant Superintendent Darryn Clifton told the BDT. 

“Different people have different perceptions regarding what is behind the walls and obviously a lot of inmates have committed many different offences,” Mr Clifton said.

“People who have never been behind the walls will have a completely different perception as to what we see on a daily basis,” he said. 

There was one clear take away from the visit to the jail; there is a clear focus on rehabilitation and the prevention of reoffending.

There are numerous programs and opportunities available to inmates which not only allow them to engage with the community, but also to further their education. 

Jason Hodges is in charge of security and is one of the 60 staff members employed at the correctional centre.

He says the practices within correction services have changed and the focus is now on rehabilitation.

“Jails used to be about warehousing inmates, but now we have modern correctional practices where inmates are assessed in terms of what programs they need to undertake to challenge their offending behaviour and reduce that offending,” Security Manager Hodges told the BDT. 

“We engage the inmates in their offending behaviour to try and reduce reoffending,” Mr Hodges said. 

“Our aim is not to put people back in the community to reoffend, but to go back into the community and be a valuable part of that community,” he said. 

Like a lot of buildings in Broken Hill, the jail has a rich history. The Broken Hill Correctional Centre is the fourth oldest operating prison in NSW, behind Berrima, Goulburn and Bathurst.

It is also one of only three country prisons in NSW built before 1900 still in use. 

Mr Clifton says that the historical value of the prison is something Broken Hill should be proud of, particularly in Australia’s first heritage listed city. 

“Having one of the oldest prisons in NSW that is still operational is definitely something Broken Hill should be proud of. 

“A lot of prisons built around the same time or after have now been turned into museums, so to have an operational jail of this stature in our town, and with Broken Hill being Australia’s first heritage listed city, it is a bonus.”

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